The University of Macau (UM) Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) has developed a groundbreaking technology that enables storage of stem cells at room temperature for a minimum of seven days without the loss of viability and biological activities. This new technology does not rely on the traditional cryopreservation method which requires costly equipment and tedious cryopreservation procedures, thus enabling cell storage and transport under ambient conditions.
Prof Ren-He Xu, a professor at the FHS of UM, has near two decades of research experiences in stem cells and their medical applications. Under his supervision, his doctoral student Jiang Bin and postdoctoral researcher Yan Li, both from the FHS, engaged in the related research study titled ‘Spheroidal Formation Preserves Human Stem Cells for Prolonged Environment under Ambient Conditions for Facile Storage and Transportation’. Together with the participation of Dr Chris Wong Koon Ho, an assistant professor at the FHS, they achieved success in the development of the new technology. The related paper has been published in Biomaterials, a renowned international journal in the field of biological materials.
The study found that preparing human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC) to form spheroids with the hanging-drop method or other methods can reduce the cell metabolism and increase the cell viability. Stored in a sealed vessel filled with regular culture medium, under ambient conditions without oxygen supply, the viability of hMSC in spheroids remained over 90 per cent even after 11 days. This method is also applicable to higher pluripotent human embryonic stem cells.
Stem cells are found in various locations of the body such as bone marrow, blood, brain, spinal cord, skin, and corneal limbus. They are responsible for regenerating and repairing damaged tissues and organs in the body. Transplantation of stem cells can restore damaged tissues and organs to their original functions. For this reason, stem cells have significant clinical value. However, they require strict culturing and storage conditions. Extended exposure (over 24 to 48 hours) to unfavourable temperature, humidity, or levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide will cause the cells to gradually lose their functions and viability.
Currently long-distance cell transport mainly relies on cryopreservation, which costs hundreds of, sometimes even one thousand, US dollars. For short-distance transport, cells can be prepared in suspension or adherent culture, but the number of cells that can be transported via this method is limited. Moreover, cell viability decreases dramatically after transport for 48 hours under ambient conditions. The new technology developed by the UM researchers can overcome the above limitations. With this new technology termed spheropreservation, only regular culture tubes and media, which cost only several US dollars, are required for storing and shipping in large quantity probably any type of stem cells and non-stem cells that can aggregate, within a temperature range from 10 ℃ to 37 ℃. With this technology, a sufficient dose of stem cells that are being transported can be used in patients without the need to freeze stem cells before transport and to thaw, revive, and proliferate the transported stem cells.
The research project was jointly funded by UM and the Macao Science and Technology Development Fund. A patent for this technology has been applied for. For more information about the research article, please visit https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0142961217302077.